The Participation of Small Museums in Visitor Research
Visitor research appears to be a practice which currently has limited application in New Zealand, especially within small museums. There are challenges in undertaking such research, which have led to an emphasis placed upon collecting visitation numbers. Visitor research is a practice which can be used by museums for a range of purposes, such as improving exhibitions, future planning, or for funding bids. In this way, promoting a range of visitor research methods can enhance the overall value of data gathered. Using Museums Aotearoa’s National Visitor Survey as a starting point, this research explores the needs of small museums with regard to visitor research, and also looks into the ways in which these needs might be met. Seven face-to-face interviews were conducted with key people in small museums and galleries. Diversity within the research sample ensured opportunities for comparison, building a picture of differences and similarities in their perceptions of visitor research. The interview responses generated themes around current and ideal practice, funding and management, and community value and involvement. Many reasons emerged as to why small museums and galleries do not carry out visitor research. Shortages of money and staff were two of the main barriers identified. These and other limitations, such as a lack of experience with implementation and analysis, need to be addressed before an institution can seriously undertake valuable visitor research. The findings suggest that within this group of small museums and galleries there is generally a limited understanding about visitor research and the usefulness of the collected data, often restricting practice. There are a number of benefits which would result from access to experts to educate and support visitor research practice. However, there is also the need for funding, possibly in the form of “start up” grants. If more visitor research was undertaken using such support mechanisms, it could ultimately improve the operation of small museums, by creating benchmarks for reporting and potentially increasing funding.